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June 1, 2007

The end is near for wizard series, but not its magic

Scholastic has ordered a printing of 12-million copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the U.S. alone. Bookstores across the globe will host midnight release parties; Barnes and Noble stores have welcomed as many as 1,200 people to each of these late-night celebrations. British bookstore Waterstones is setting up a helpline. What do these facts indicate? To the well informed Harry Potter fan, they mean an end is approaching. And for some (like me), its arrival is hitting harder than a rogue bludger to the arm.

I was in sixth grade when a Scholastic book order form was passed to me. Based on how cool I thought the cover art was, I selected a new novel called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This was October of 1999.

After joyfully completing this book, I couldn’t help picking it up again...and again. By Christmas, I had read Sorcerer’s Stone four times. Luckily, I received Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban as gifts, and a most curious thing happened: I found myself shirking the television to retreat to my room, reading until 4 a.m. I knew at that point something wicked had this way come, something “wicked” the way Ron Weasley might use the term—something awesome of epic proportions.

I have since been to midnight releases for Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince; I am also a senior member of Chamber of Secrets forums, a Harry Potter fan community where I partake in analyzing as well as theorizing about the books and films. I consider myself an authority on Harry Potter to the extent that if Harry Potter became a college major, I would be declaring tomorrow.

And I am not alone in my obsession. Harry Potter fan fiction is splashed across the Internet. Emerson Spartz created fansite Mugglenet when he was 12 years old; today, it receives around six-million hits per day. Harry Potter conferences, a relatively new manifestation of Pottermania, are similar to Trekkie conventions or Comic Con, where fans around the world congregate for Potter-related activities and academic debates. Phoenix Rising, the most recent of these, was held from May 17–21 in New Orleans. Chicago will host its own Harry Potter conference, Terminus, in August 2008.

Such is the magical property of this series—the fanaticism which grips some people when they read the books. It is difficult to put a finger on the exact reason why fans become so dedicated and enthralled, though I would not be wrong to claim that the escapist quality is hugely appealing. Adults and children alike are equally interested in reading about Harry as he fumbles through wizard life, and can’t resist the charming and accessible nature of the books, with their luminary characters and whimsical adventures.

Rowling’s writing, although targeted by critics as amateurish and uninspired, is frequently lauded by fans for its wit and charisma. Laura Mallory, a mother from Georgia bent on having the book series banned from schools, considers Rowling’s writing overly inspiring.

Mallory, never having read an entire Potter book, claims children are inspired to practice witchcraft. Frankly, the next time I “swish and flick” a stick at something and say Wingardium Leviosa and that something actually levitates, I’ll let her know.

Praise is deserved for the complexity of Rowling’s story, however, and the remarkable characters she has introduced. The “trio” of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger has always been quite likeable, and everyone has a soft spot for Lupin, Sirius, and Dumbledore, but my true favorite is Rowling’s most creative and three-dimensional personality, Severus Snape.

Yes, the greasy git. Going into the final tome, the mystery that surrounds Snape’s loyalties is easily the greatest. Spoiler alert: For those who have read the sixth book, you will know that Snape killed Dumbledore. Yet such an atrocity is still met with obstinate support for the character, and many a theory has been shared over the Internet as to what will finally be revealed about our favorite Potions master. My personal favorite theory suggests that a friendship once existed at Hogwarts between Severus and Harry’s mother, Lily, since Rowling has promised a huge revelation about her.

In addition, a large portion of the story is expected to revolve around Harry’s seemingly impossible task of hunting down and destroying four Horcruxes: objects of some significance containing a torn piece of Voldemort’s soul. Theoretically, if these are destroyed, Voldemort can finally be killed without lingering around as “Vapormort.”

For the shippers out there, the definitive moment when Ron and Hermione finally declare their love for each other is also much anticipated, as are numerous deaths including two major characters and the long-awaited answers to the numerous little questions fans have, such as, what did Dudley see when the Dementor attacked him?

This summer, as the clock strikes the witching hour and the day becomes July 21, box cutters across the world will tear through cardboard, and the final book of the series will at long last make its way into the world.

I will join millions in reading through the night, and upon digesting the final word of the book, whether it be scar or something else, we will wipe the tears away, knowing we have read the end, that there won’t be an eighth installment.

Online forums will crash from too much activity, the helpline I mentioned earlier will have a perpetually busy signal, and the Order of the Phoenix film will see a surge in box-office figures that week.

After all, what can fans do in the end except reread the series and await the final few films, the last links to the greatest cultural phenomenon our generation has known?